Working with Others Remotely:
Building and Maintaining Relationships
Whether you are self-employed or employed, you will inevitably have to work with other people at some point. Freelancers have to interact with clients and customers, and build relationships with them. Those in employment need to work with colleagues, managers, suppliers and customers.
It is impossible to avoid other people entirely—and few of us would ever want to do so.
However, remote working brings significant challenges to working with others. It is much harder to build rapport when you are not face-to-face. A significant amount of communication is lost without body language, facial expression and gestures, and telephone and email are a poor substitute for face-to-face contact.
This page explores how to build and maintain relationships with others when you are working remotely.
The Importance of Maintaining Relationships
In the past, remote working was often a choice, and not always available to everyone. Few people worked remotely all the time; one or two days a week was more normal.
This type of part-time homeworking makes it easy to maintain relationships with your colleagues.
After all, even if your colleagues are also homeworking part-time, you probably see them at least once a week. Many managers make a point of holding all-team meetings to facilitate relationships.
However, many people have found remote working thrust upon them recently as a result of the pandemic. They and all their colleagues have been moved to working from home, often with very little notice. This situation makes it much harder to maintain good relationships with your colleagues—but also makes it even more important that you do so.
Everyone’s mental health can suffer if they feel isolated, and it is essential to reach out to others to ensure that both they and you remain healthy.
Tips to Maintain Relationships
There are a number of things that individuals and managers can do to help maintain good relationships when everyone is working remotely. They include:
Schedule ‘whole team’ video conferences on a regular basis
It is surprising how easy it is to become out of touch with everyone else’s work when you do not half-hear phone calls, or spend any time chatting in corridors.
This means that the formal arrangements for keeping in touch have to be better when everyone is working remotely.
It is worth scheduling regular ‘whole team’ video conferences or group telephone conversations to ensure that everyone is kept abreast of the work of others, and the overall direction of the team. However, it is also worth being aware that not everyone will be able to make these.
Top Tip! Be aware of pressures on people’s time and attention
When everyone is working from home—and especially if you don’t have children—it can be tempting to assume that everyone is available at any time.
However, this may not be the case.
Before you schedule a meeting, ask people what time would suit—and be prepared to find that you may need several meetings to accommodate everyone! For example, parents whose children are also at home may need to have meetings when their partner is able to supervise the children—but this will not be at the same time for everyone.
Don’t assume that people are being rude if they can’t make remote meetings—or that they don’t need (or want) to be updated on what’s happening.
Take time for social chat during team meetings
Without the opportunity to meet people in the kitchen or at the water cooler, it is easy to lose touch with colleagues as individuals.
However, when people are working from home, it is almost more important to know what is going on in their lives, and to give them a chance to vent a bit.
Build in ten or fifteen minutes at the start of a scheduled team meeting to just ‘go round the table’ and ask everyone about their day or week. It is also good to pick up the phone to colleagues just to ‘check in’ and make sure that everyone is OK.
This may be especially true for those who do not attend the scheduled meetings as they may be under particular stress at home.
Ask your colleagues what you can do to help facilitate their remote working
Working from home does not necessarily mean less routine. For many people, it may mean a more rigid routine, especially if they have to fit in with the rest of their household.
Spend time finding out what (often small) changes would make the biggest difference to your colleagues—and sharing what would help you, too.
For example, changing your deadline from ‘by close today’ to ‘by 10am tomorrow’ may help a colleague who is largely working in the evenings or early mornings because of family commitments. Allowing children to come and say hello at the start of a team meeting may be enough to ensure that everyone is left in peace for the rest of the meeting. Whatever the change, you won’t know until you ask.
Check in with colleagues
Don’t just send an email to someone about a job or task. Instead, take time to pick up the phone and have a conversation. This may be the only contact they have had with anyone all week. As with team meetings, it is also worth investing in a bit of social chitchat as well. It will probably do you good, too.
If you work from home for any length of time, you will inevitably need to build new relationships with people, as well as maintaining those you already had.
It is much harder to build relationships remotely—but it is possible. You just have to put a bit more work into it, and it may take longer without face-to-face contact.
All the usual ‘rules’ about building rapport still apply.
The added difficulties are that you may lack some of the usual cues. For example, if you only ever speak by phone, you do not see any body language or facial expressions. However, you can use your tone of voice more consciously to convey meaning.
If you cannot meet face-to-face, it is worth using video-conferencing as well as telephone, especially at the start of your relationship.
This will help you to build rapport faster, because you will have at least some of the usual visual cues.
However, the most important thing to remember is just that it will take time to build a relationship. Relax, and let it develop.
Investing Time in Relationships
When you work in an office, you are probably not even conscious of the time you spend building and maintaining relationships. However, add up the blocks of five minutes here and there, and you will soon realise that it is a significant chunk of your working day and week.
When you or colleagues work remotely, it can be harder to invest that time—but it is probably even more important to do so.